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Photography was presented as a new visual medium simultaneously in England and France in 1839. This invention had been preceded by a decade of experimentation. The aim was to fix a fragment of reality projected via a lens onto the ground glass of a camera obscura on a support sensitized to light with silver nitrate. In England, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) developed a negative-positive process, which he called the calotype. Using this process, multiple positive prints could be made from a paper negative. The most common method used, well into the nineteenth century, was the wet collodion process (developed by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851), by which prints on albumen paper were made from glass negatives. The benefit of this process was that it produced sharp images on glass in a matter of seconds. But this method also had one major drawback: It involved multiple steps to capture, expose, and develop the plate, and the photographer needed to have equipment on hand to immediately treat the wet plate.

Adapted from: Boom, Mattie. "Photography." Europe 1789-1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of Industry and Empire, edited by John Merriman and Jay Winter, vol. 4, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2006


Archer, Frederick Scott. On the Use of Collodion in Photography. 1851

Archer, Frederick Scott, and the Journal of the Photographic Society. "On Rendering the Collodion Film Permanent Independently of Glass Plates." The Photographic and Fine Art Journal, vol. IX, no. I, 1856

Archer, Frederick Scott, and the Liverpool Photographic Journal. "Origin of the Collodion Process." The Photographic and Fine Art Journal, vol. X, no. VIII, 1857

Archer, M., et al. "Rules to Be Folowed in the Employment of Collodion Prepared by M. Archer for Obtaining Instantaneous, Positive and Negative Proofs." The Photographic Art Journal, vol. 4, no. 5, 1852


While studying the university, he would build instruments and to exchange astronomical observations with Veitch. Stimulated by his classmate Henry Brougham, Brewster began his experimental researches on light about 1798. While he believed that he had disproved part of Newton’s explanation of the “inflexion” of light.  Not until much of this work was completed did he learn, in 1811 or 1812, that in 1808 Malus had discovered that reflected light acquired the same polarization as one of the doubly refracted beams in Iceland spar. This information, combined with his discoveries that doubly refracting bodies have two dispersive powers, that the single beam transmitted by agate is polarized, and that noncrystallized bodies such as mica “depolarise” light, shifted Brewster’s concern from instruments back to optical theory. After the 1830’s Brewster directed his attention to such subjects as photography, stereoscopy, and the physiology of vision. His time for research was limited, and optics was increasingly dominated by an unwelcome theory, the undulatory theory of light. Brewster never wholeheartedly accepted the undulatory theory. To accept the undulatory theory of light would have required Brewster to abandon his deepest convictions about man’s ability to know the world and man’s duty to serve God.

Adapted from: "Brewster, David." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol. 2, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008


Brewster, David. "On the Optics of Photography, but Particularly on the Character of the Images Formed upon Opaque and Transparent Surfaces. By Sir David Brewster, K. H., D. C. L., F. R. S., President of the Photographic Society of Scotland." The Photographic Journal, no. 60, 1857

Brewster, David. "On the Photomicroscope." Photographic Notes, vol. IX, no. 188, 1864

Brewster, David. "On Photographic and Stereoscopic Portraiture." The British Journal of Photography, vol. VIII, no. 137, 1861

Brewster, David, et al. On the Refractive Power of the Two New Fluids in Minerals; with Additional Observations on the Nature and Properties of These Substances: by Sir David Brewster. Printed by P. Neill, 1826



Daguerre used the camera obscura to make sketches for his stage designs and, like so many others, wished to avoid the tedious tracing and fix the image chemically. After several unsuccessful efforts he learned in 1826 that J. N. Niépce was working toward the same end and had made some progress. A cautious correspondence followed, in which Niépce revealed his heliograph process, and in 1829 Daguerre and Niépce formed a partnership to develop the method.

Heliography depended on the hardening action of sunlight on bitumen and the subsequent dissolution of the soft shadow parts of the image. Using this method on a glass plate, Niépce had obtained and fixed a photograph from the camera obscura in 1826. But his aspirations went beyond a visible image to a photoengraved plate from which he could pull prints. This goal led to his using bitumen on silver-coated copperplates and then iodizing the silver revealed after dissolving the unexposed bitumen. The removal of the hardened bitumen produced a silver-silver iodide image. But Niépce went no further. Building on his partner's foundation, Daguerre discovered the light sensitivity of silver iodide in 1831 but was unable to obtain a visible image. His discovery in 1835 that the latent image present on a silver iodide plate exposed for so short a time as 20 minutes could be developed with mercury vapor marked a major advance. Fixing was achieved in 1837, when he removed the unreduced silver iodide with a solution of common salt. Having improved Niépce's process beyond recognition, Daguerre felt justified in calling it the daguerreotype. He ceded the process to the French government. He revealed his discovery on Aug. 19, 1839.

Adapted from: "Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., vol. 4, Gale, 2004.


Daguerre, Louis Jacques Mandé. Practical Description of the Daguerreotype. N.p., 1840

Daguerre, Louis Jacques Mané. Historique et Description des Procédés du Daguerréotype et du Diorama. Susse Frères, 1839

Daguerre, Louis Jacques Mande. "Madame Louise Georgina Daguerre." Photographs from the National Media Museum, Primary Source Media, 1845

Daguerre, Louis Jacques Mandé. On a New Mode of Preparing the Plates Destined to Receive Photographic Images. 1844


Since its invention in 1839 photography has come to have an increasing number of military uses. Both still and motion-picture photography document combat, provide military intelligence and topographic data, aid military training, and help in mapping terrain. The first recorded use of photography for military subjects was a series of daguerreotypes of the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848. Popular journals used the daguerreotypes, taken during battlefield lulls, to illustrate their accounts of the action. During the Crimean War (1854–1856) the Englishman Roger Fenton became the first person to photograph battlefield scenes under fire. Because of bulky equipment and slow photographic materials, he could photograph only landscapes and portraits. Most photographs from the American Civil War, such as those of Mathew Brady and his assistants, were taken for a primarily civilian audience, although Union forces attempted on at least one occasion, in 1862, to take aerial photographs from a balloon. Because of technical limitations, photography principally captured images of the battlefield dead and ruins; few pictures depicted actual battles.


Fenton, Roger. Photographs of Sculpture in the British Museum. 1850

Fenton, Roger, and Extracts from Foreign Publications. "Narrative of a Photographic Trip to the Seat of War in the Crimea." Humphrey's Journal, vol. VII, no. 21, 1856

Fenton, Roger. "Photographic Society." The Photographic Journal, vol. V, no. 74, 1858

Fenton, Roger. "Skeleton of a Human and a Gorilla, Displayed Side by Side: 577008i." Photographs from the Wellcome Library for the History of Medicine, Primary Source Media, 1860


After completing his study at Cambridge, Talbot continued his work in mathematics, and during the same period Talbot’s interests in chemistry and optics quickened, and he gradually adopted a unified, dynamic view of physical phenomena. The early nineteenth century witnessed the adoption and modification of new theoretical frameworks in chemistry and optics. The discovery of many new substances stimulated increasing concern with chemical composition and structure, while the wave theory of light posed problems with dispersion, absorption, photochemical reaction, and other forms of light-matter interaction. It was with the development of photography that Talbot’s love of nature and landscapes merged with his interests in optics and photochemistry. by 1835 they were able to obtain “negatives’ by employing tiny camera obscuras and paper sensitized with excess silver nitrate and fixed with excess common salt. Between 1835 and 1839, Talbot and [his assistant] continued their experiments, motivated by a desire for an analytic tool for research on radiant heat and light, as well as by a desire for reproducing images from nature. Although Talbot’s photographic efforts did not meet with major commercial success and, because of his efforts to enforce his patents, did not win him popular acclaim, his paper on the calotype did bring him the honor of the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society (1842) for the most outstanding piece of research on light during the previous two years. In the middle 1840’s he published two of the earliest books illustrated with photographs.  In 1852 he patented and published a method of photoengraving called photoglyphy.

Adapted from: "Talbot, William Henry Fox." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol. 13, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008.


Talbot, William Henry Fox. The Pencil of Nature. Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1844

Fox Talbot, William Henry. "Sketches of Eminent Photographers." The British Journal of Photography, vol. XI, no. 222, 1864

Talbot, William Henry Fox. "Nurse and Two Children with Toy Hay Cart." Photographs from the National Media Museum, Primary Source Media, 1842

Talbot, William Henry Fox. "Copy of a Translation of a Hieroglyphic Tablet." Photographs from the National Media Museum, Primary Source Media, 1845


In the mid-1800s, the allure of the Middle East could not be ignored. People all around Europe wondered at stories of huge statues the size of buildings and pyramids taller still. However, they could see these marvels only through inaccurate engravings. But a visionary Englishman named Francis Frith saw the potential to use the emerging medium of photography to capture what these great monuments actually looked like. In a time when cameras were not yet commercially available, Frith made his own. After several long years, he convinced a small publishing company to sponsor his trip to Egypt, and Frith brought his delicate equipment to a place where he wasn't even sure the process would work. After a long ride across the Mediterranean, Frith set out to capture the beauty and magnificence of Egypt and Palastine. His chemicals boiled in the desert sun, and his exposure times could be over two hours. But in the end, his folios were a tremendous success! His high quality images are invaluable to archaeologists today, as they show what Egypt was like before excavations. The Sphinx, for example, was buried up to its neck in sand [see Frith's photo above], and Frith assumed it to have a person's body and not a lion's. Francis Frith was a pioneer and one of the most important early photographers. His beautiful images remain famous today.

Adapted from: Hurowitz, Asher. "Francis Frith." Dig Into History, Nov.-Dec. 2017


Frith, Francis. Egypt and Palestine. Vol. 2, J. S. Virtue, [1857?]

Frith, Francis. "Visions of Life and Death." Friends' Quarterly Examiner, Jan. 1890

Frith, Francis. "Photographic Contributions to Knowledge." The British Journal of Photography, vol. VII, no. 113, 1860

Frith, Francis. "Francis Frith Wearing Eastern Dress." Photographs from the National Media Museum, Primary Source Media, 1850


Auguste and Louis Lumière were pioneers in the improvement of photographic materials and processes in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Using their scientific abilities and business talents, they were responsible for developing existing ideas in still photography and motion pictures to produce higher quality products that were practical enough to be of commercial value. Their initial business success was manufacturing a "dry" photographic plate that provided a new level of convenience to photographers. The brothers later turned to less viable experiments with color photography, producing a more refined, but expensive, method known as the Autochrome process. The Lumière brothers were each recognized for their numerous technological and scientific achievements: Auguste was named a member of the Legion of Honor, and Louis was elected to the French Academy of Sciences. They are also remembered for their lifelong aims of bringing such technology to a wider marketplace, a value seen most clearly in their contributions to the motion picture industry, which has become a popular form of entertainment in countries around the world.

Adapted from: "The Lumière Brothers." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., vol. 10, Gale, 2004


Lumiere Brothers. "Tulips." Photographs from the Royal Photographic Society Collection, Primary Source Media, 1900

Lumiere, A., and L. Lumiere. "The Action of Alums and Aluminium Salts on Gelatine." The British Journal of Photography, vol. LIII, no. 2411, 1906

Lumiere, Auguste, and Louis Lumiere. "Photography in Natural Colours by the Indirect Method." Photography: The Journal of the Amateur, the Professional, and the Trade, vol. X, no. 490, 1898

A. & L. Lumiere and A. Seyewetz. "Potassium Bromide for Increasing Contrast." Bulletin of Photography, vol. 8, no. 185, 1911


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